Richard von Weizsäcker Forum 2021
As part of the Richard von Weizsäcker Forum from October 11 to 14, 2021, former, current, and future fellows of the Robert Bosch Academy convened for a study tour to the Saar-Lor-Lux region and Berlin. They examined the outcome of the German federal election 2021 and cross-border cooperation in Europe.
From October 11 to 14, some 35 former, current, and future fellows of the Robert Bosch Academy came together for this year's Richard von Weizsäcker Forum. During the three-day study tour to the Saar-Lor-Lux region in the border region of Germany (Saarland), France (Lorraine), and Luxembourg, the fellows exchanged ideas with a wide variety of interlocutors. They gained a cross-border perspective on cultural identities, the influence of the European Union on the daily lives of local people, and the regional tensions. On the fourth day, the fellows were received by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and conductor Daniel Barenboim.
The Saar-Lor-Lux region: a laboratory for cross-border cooperation
The Saar-Lor-Lux region is infused with a shared European history, multilingual culture, and cross-border encounters in everyday life. This is where the former, current, and future fellows met to open the Richard von Weizsäcker Forum 2021.
On the morning of October 12, the fellows talked about the region's economy with Thomas Schuck, managing director of the Saarland business development company SHS Strukturholding Saar GmbH. The discussion mainly focused on how a classically industrial region can transform into a sustainable economic alternative and how global companies shape the regional economy.
Thomas Schuck: “One lesson learned is to not be afraid of change. Change will happen anyway. Therefore, the more important it is to adjust relevant structures and industries. The key factors for this are qualified people and their ability and willingness to change and to stay in the region.”
Afterwards, the group met Martin Grasmück, the director of Saarländischer Rundfunk, for lunch and exchanged views on the challenges of regional media and cross-border publics.
Martin Grasmück: “We are in a crucial transformation process. We need to ensure reaching a broad and diverse audience with TV, radio as well as new digital formats and engaging in smart production. And it is important to strengthen media competencies of young people today and in the future.”
The fact that borders do not prevent people from meeting one another is particularly evident in the field of art and culture. In an exchange with Sylvie Hamard, the artistic director of the bilingual German-French PERSPECTIVES Festival for Stage Arts, the fellows explored the question of how art and culture contribute to a cross-border identity in the region.
Sylvie Hamard: “The role of culture is to unite people and to overcome borders that are particularly in the heads of people. Art is really powerful to change people’s mindsets. Artists bring new perspectives on how to look at our society. I am convinced of the necessity and impact of art on our lives.“
A Europe free of internal borders
Since 1990, “Schengen” has been synonymous with a Europe without border controls. And thus, a catalyst for European integration. In the small Luxembourg village, the fellows visited the European Museum Schengen and, after a tour, exchanged views with museum director Martina Kneip on the importance of the Schengen Agreement 30 years after its ratification.
Martina Kneip: “When people come here, they often start to realize the corner stone that the Schengen agreement constitutes with regard to free movement. It is here in Schengen that visitors start to reflect upon the value of the freedom of movement across borders.”
The fellows took advantage of the time over dinner to reflect upon the day's experiences and to exchange ideas about their current projects.
The next day began with a tour of the French village of Rodemack, which over the centuries has witnessed the conflict-ridden history of the border region.
Afterwards, they went to Luxembourg city for a joint lunch with Jean-Louis Thill, Director for Europe and International Economic Relations at the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. The fellows spoke with him about the future of European integration.
Jean-Louis Thill: "We worked for decades in our region to make borders invisible. The closing of borders during the Covid-pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities of cross-border communities and has shaken people's confidence in open borders."
The last stop of the study tour dealt with a particularly intensively discussed topic: the rule of law in the EU. How can the EU strengthen rule-of-law standards within its borders and respond appropriately to individual member states that seem to systematically undermine the independent judiciary in their home countries? These and other questions informed the fellows' exchange with Juliane Kokott, one of eleven Advocates General at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Juliane Kokott: "Recent development in some European Union member states pose a major field of further work to the Court of Justice of the EU. The EU has to ask itself what kind of union it wants to be in the future. The idea of a being an ever closer value union is nowadays challenged and an answer needs to be found."
A chamber concert to crown the intellectual stimulation
On the morning of the fourth and final day, the fellows were received by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Schloss Bellevue. Among other topics, the conversation covered the fellows' impressions from the study tour, the implications of the 2021 federal elections, and Germany's role in the shifting international order.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "Germany remains a country that is aware of its international responsibility and shoulders it. The resolution of the major issues facing humanity, is going to require much, much more cooperation within the international community."
The question of what to expect from Germany on the world stage was also the topic of the following discussion. The fellows reflected on international expectations of the incoming German government and the challenges awaiting Chancellor Angela Merkel's successor. The discussion began with input from Soli Özel, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul; Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director at Le Monde; and Walter Russell Mead, columnist at The Wall Street Journal; and was moderated by Spiegel journalist Christiane Hoffmann.
Soli Özel: “If foreign policy is not even an issue in German TV debates of the campaign period, we might be skeptical whether Germany will have the will and courage to take more risk and responsibility to make the EU a strong geopolitical player.”
Sylvie Kauffmann: “Germany looks as if we have the luxury of time. We don’t. There is so much to do globally. And we have to start immediately to make the most out of Germany’s G7 Presidency and France’s EU Presidency in 2022.”
Walter Russel Mead: “At some point in time, a very satisfied Germany that wants continuity and a very unsatisfied international community that cannot live with continuity will clash.”
The Forum concluded with an exchange with conductor and pianist, Maestro Daniel Barenboim, general music director of the Berlin State Opera and founder of the Barenboim-Said Academy. He spoke about the potential of art and music to bring people together across nations and borders. This was followed by a chamber concert with musicians from the Barenboim-Said Academy.
Daniel Barenboim: "In the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – as in every other orchestra – there is equality. Everybody has the same rights and responsibilities. It’s not enough to talk about human rights. They are essential. But we also have a human responsibility."
The last day of the Forum was rounded off with a farewell dinner in the atrium of the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s Berlin Office in the Französische Straße 32. In his concluding remarks, Henry Alt-Haaker, Senior Vice President of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, summarized the most important insights of the study tour as follows: “On this trip we got to know the reality of life of citizens in border regions of former 'arch enemies' in a united and peaceful Europe. Here we were able to see both how the vision of a borderless EU excites people and how they deal with the small and large administrative and political challenges in their everyday lives. A world of international cooperation, where different opinions and perspectives are discussed without dividing neighbors, is a vision that Robert Bosch Academy can very much identify with.”
The Richard von Weizsäcker Forum is the most important event of the Robert Bosch Academy and brings together former, current, and future fellows each year. It was established in honor of Richard von Weizsäcker, former German president and long-time member of the Robert Bosch Stiftung Board of Trustees.
Image: Robert Bosch Academy / David Ausserhofer